Step back in time with a visit to these three splendid South Carolina estates.

Ponies graze in the pasture in front of Magnolia Plantation, one of three former rice plantations along the Ashley River Road National Scenic Byway northwest of Charleston.

Sunlight sifts in golden strands through Spanish moss hanging from massive live oaks along the Ashley River Road National Scenic Byway. The 11-mile section of State 61 provides the perfect setting for three plantations: Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation, and Drayton Hall.

Magnificent Middleton
It's tough to choose a favorite, but if pressed, we'd have to go with Middleton Place. The lush, sprawling 65-acre terraced gardens open out to panoramic marshland views. Be sure to see the 900-year-old Middleton Oak; then tour inside the restored Middleton Place House Museum. The Plantation Stableyards feature costumed interpreters describing life in the 1800s. Middleton also debuted a garden shop this year.

Middleton Place: 4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414; 1-800-782-3608 or Admission: $20 adults, $5 ages 7-15.

Marvelous Magnolia About 4 miles south of Middleton lies Magnolia Plantation. This 17th-century estate contains one of the largest azalea and camellia collections in the country. Tour the house, and visit the antebellum cabin. Then hop on the tram to the outskirts of the plantation, where you'll see the unique ecosystem of marsh, river, and woodlands.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens: 3550 Ashley River Road; 1-800-367-3517 or Admission: $13 adults, $7 ages 6-12.

Distinguished Drayton
Your last stop before you get to Charleston is Drayton Hall. Built between 1738 and 1742, it's the oldest preserved plantation house open to the public in the country. Take a guided tour through the Georgian-Palladian house. Then wander along the marshland and the Ashley River, and take an African American history tour.

Drayton Hall: 3380 Ashley River Road; 1-888-349-0588 or Admission: $12 adults, $8 ages 12-18, $6 ages 6-11.

This article is from the September 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.